AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Spanish players have won a lot lately, so why not the Masters?
Spain had two golfers in the top four after the first round at Augusta National on Thursday. Sergio Garcia had a share of the lead at 6-under and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano was tied for fourth two strokes back.
“The Masters tournament means a lot to Spanish golf,” Fernandez-Castano said. “We’ve got, what? Four green jackets? I’ve got none, but Spanish golf has got four green jackets.”
Seve Ballesteros was the first Spaniard to win the Masters, claiming his first green jacket in 1980 and a second in 1983. His good friend and protege, Jose Maria Olazabal, won here in 1994 and 1999.
But Spain is oh-for all the majors since Olazabal’s last victory. He and Garcia have had their chances, most memorably Garcia’s runner-up finish to Tiger Woods at the 1999 PGA Championship. Garcia also tied for fourth at the Masters in 2004, and Olazabal tied for third in 2006.
Spain, however, always seems to be in the mix when it comes to the biggest sporting events these days.
It won soccer’s World Cup in 2010, as well as the last two European championships. Its basketball team was runner-up at the London Olympics. Fernando Alonso battled Sebastian Vettel all the way to the last race for the Formula One title last year, losing by just three points. Rafael Nadal has won three tournaments and been runner-up in another since returning in February from the knee injury that sidelined him for seven months.
And when the Europeans staged a remarkable comeback to win the Ryder Cup last fall, the team captain was Olazabal.
But a victory at a major could lay the foundation for Spain’s next generation of success.
“We do need a major in Spain. If it’s not the Masters, one of the other three,” Fernandez-Castano said. “It’s important for Spanish golf to get a major because, as you know, there’s less and less players now, and we need to motivate the younger generation to take up the game.
“Unfortunately, it’s been a while now,” he added. “I think we’ve always had the talent … but we still have to finish the job. So hopefully this is the one.”
MATCHING OUTFITS: Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia played just one group apart Thursday and were only one shot apart on the leaderboard at the Masters.
That wasn’t terribly confusing, though their shirts were.
Viewers around the country had to be doing double takes as the cameras switched between the two players as they battled for the lead in the late afternoon on the back nine. That’s because both were wearing the same garish shirt, color and all.
“Well, we are not wearing the same outfit because we want to,” Johnson said. “This is Adidas; they script our clothing this week. We are wearing the same outfit because they told us to.”
The shirts were partly striped and an acid shade of green. From a distance, it was hard to tell which player was which.
Whatever they looked like, the shirts seemed to work. Garcia shot a 66 to tie for the lead, while Johnson was a shot back at 67.
Johnson was asked if he would like to wear something on Sunday that moderator Tom Nelson — an Augusta member — was wearing in the interview room. That, too, comes in green and is put over the shoulders of the Masters champion.
“I would love to,” Johnson said, laughing.
MICKELSON MOMENT: There’s a reason fans love Phil Mickelson. He usually goes the extra step to please them.
Mickelson was at it again Thursday after finishing his opening round of 71. After signing his scorecard in the clubhouse, he came out to see about 30 fans lined up in a roped off area hoping to get autographs from Lefty.
Mickelson asked if anyone had a Sharpie, then had caddie Jim Mackay fetch it from a woman in the crowd. He then took out a used glove and signed it for a little boy who was waiting with his father.
“You can’t sign outside the clubhouse, but for him I’ll make an exception,” Mickelson said.
Those waiting applauded the move, then someone yelled out that Mickelson should sign for the woman, too, for giving him the Sharpie.
He didn’t, and said it should serve as a lesson.
“Sometimes you can do something nice without anything in return,” Mickelson told them.
AMATEUR WOES: Alan Dunbar would have been happy to break 80 in the first round after getting his first look at Augusta National this week.
Unfortunately for the amateur from Northern Ireland, he couldn’t even do that.
Dunbar made only one par on the front nine Thursday on his way to an 11-over 83 that was the worst score of the day. It included a triple bogey on No. 2, and he didn’t make a par until the ninth hole.
“It’s definitely a learning experience on a course like this,” said the 22-year-old, who qualified for his first Masters by winning the British Amateur.
Dunbar rebounded after a 46 on the front nine to shoot 37 on the back. He even made a birdie on the par-5 15th, and was positive about his day despite the bloated score.
“I enjoyed the whole way around,” he said. “I wasn’t scoring great, but I enjoyed it. It was a great experience. ”
RACING AROUND: Rickie Fowler used to race motocross, so he knows a few things about crashes and spills.
After making double bogey on the first hole Thursday, he could have stayed down. But Fowler came back to play the next 17 holes in 6-under and put himself in contention after the first round of the Masters.
Afterward, Fowler was asked to compare the roller-coaster round to a motocross race.
“I would have went down pretty hard on the first corner and probably been out of the race,” Fowler said. “Yeah, could have been a pile up in the first corner, so I would have been heading back to the pits.”
Fowler was even happier that he had few problems with his back after spending much of the last year battling back issues. He said he kept the back problem mostly quiet as he worked his way through it.
DRIVERLESS DONALD: Luke Donald is a man in search of a driver.
Donald’s opening around was going smoothly enough when he looked down at his driver on the 14th hole and noticed it had a crack in it. He managed to finish the round at 1-under 71, but will have to put a new driver in the bag for the rest of the Masters.
“It’s going to be tough,” Donald said. “I’m going to have to get some drivers here as quickly as possible and obviously not having teed up one, having a fresh one, it’s not where you really want to be. But I’ll manage.”
Donald made six birdies on a day when he said the greens were as soft and slow as he’s seen them in the nine years he has played in the Masters.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.